Lisa-Nicole Dunne, founder of purpose-led strategy consulting firm Mantra Strategy tells ThinkBusiness that having a guiding star is key to the success of every business.
Why did you set up Mantra Strategy?
I spent a lot a long time in commercial and non-profit roles and developed a fundamental belief that culture, leadership, values, and brand performance are all linked to purpose.
I was frustrated that time and again the culture of an organisation didn’t live up to their values. There was a real opportunity for organisations to live their values better and by doing so, make the world and workplace better. I wanted to connect lessons between the non-profit world and the commercial world because both are good at some aspects of operations but other areas suffer and vice versa.
“We are working with organisations that are fundamentally changing the world, both non-profits and for-profits. We offer clients flexible contracts that allow them the scope to do that”
What makes Mantra Strategy stand out?
We do two core things really well. We help organisations authentically live their values and their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) programmes, rather than just reporting on them. We are not an off the shelf service, we get under the bonnet and properly look at how organisations live their beliefs and values, how they are embedded in the culture; the way people lead, the brand and how it’s communicated and how they make an impact in the world through their CSR and EDI.
What kind of challenges did you meet and how did you overcome them?
The conventional model in consulting is to hire people at all levels, bill at a senior level even though some of the work is being done by more junior people. I didn’t want to do that, so one of the biggest challenges I had was bucking that conventional model and having really senior people who are specialists and experts. A big challenge was building out an associate model and knowing when to hire and bring the right people in, at the right level. I have a team of four employees now, all with up to 30 years’ experience and a large pool of associates.
Cashflow was a big challenge. I started out during Covid, when companies weren’t spending as much on strategic projects. Building a team of senior strategists to help convince people that these investments were worth making was crucial. Another way I overcame some of that was working with incredible people along the way. I leveraged the move to people wanting more impact and purpose in their lives during and following Covid. Being able to connect them with impact is something that Mantra does so well. We are working with organisations that are fundamentally changing the world, both non-profits and for- profits. We offer clients flexible contracts that allow them the scope to do that.
“We had to be innovative in developing products and training programmes that were bite sized in terms of investment. Uncertainty was rife, organisations didn’t have clarity around their own funding”
How did the pandemic affect your business?
The pandemic offered opportunity because people wanted more meaningful work and we were solving that for them. We were helping organisations to connect belief and purpose to culture. But we had to be creative. We had to be innovative in developing products and training programmes that were bite sized in terms of investment. Uncertainty was rife, organisations didn’t have clarity around their own funding, or how their budgets were going to materialise. We developed small programmes of work that were 1 or 2 month long pieces of work instead of 6 to 12 month programmes. This helped people go on the journey with us and thankfully so many organisations have.
What supports did you avail of and what could have been better?
Ireland is geared for products or technology start-ups specifically, or nascent or established businesses. There isn’t a huge amount of support in between. For start-ups in services and consultancy, it’s very challenging to get financial investment or grants. We were excluded from tender opportunities just by being new. There’s room to really improve the support for non tech businesses.
I mainly leaned on my own business leader network that I have built over my career, my mentors and coaches. I took a lot of advice. I’ve done a lot on my own bootstrapping, but it’s going really well. There is real opportunity for more support for businesses not in the tech space trying to make the world a better place.
“Ireland is geared for products or technology start-ups specifically, or nascent or established businesses. There isn’t a huge amount of support in between”
What lessons have you learnt that you’d like to pass on?
The biggest lesson has been to say no to some work. I have a tendency to see a solution for everything and that means I take on work that may not be exactly what I want to be about. We have to put the right value on the things we spend our time doing.
The biggest mistake is getting sucked into spending more time in the business than working on it. I can spend a lot of time getting sucked into doing client work because I’m so passionate about it. But I have an amazing senior team who can do that. If I don’t let them drive and pull me in at the right time, I am not spending my time developing the business, networking, developing our framework and programmes that help our clients make the biggest impact.
We always say how important it is to be really clear on why you exist – to have that mantra and mission as a guide. I have our mission by my desk and anytime I feel really frazzled, I remind myself of our mantra, our beliefs and why we exist and that provides real clarity. It helps us focus on the work we want to be doing and the things to say no to. That lesson has been valuable.
“There is real opportunity for more support for businesses not in the tech space trying to make the world a better place”
What is your proudest moment?
On a very basic level, paying myself my first wage was a really proud moment because I knew I was doing work I love and helping others to have employment that they love and value. Knowing that I was financially independent was terrifying but also a really proud moment.
“We have to put the right value on the things we spend our time doing”
What are your plans for the future?
We’ve been spending a lot of time in the last few months developing our EDI, purpose and culture toolkit and institute training. At the moment we work in a strategic way with our organisations and often develop their strategies for them. We are looking at a programme of support that will teach our clients how to do it in-house themselves, providing the support and toolkits they need to create their own strategy and most importantly – live it.